“A picture says a thousand words.” This old adage came to mind the other day when we presented poverty maps on Central and Eastern Europe to the European Commission. Technically speaking what we presented are small area poverty maps which give a more reliable estimate of poverty at county or local administrative unit level than would have been possible using national household surveys alone.
So what’s new? The World Bank has been drawing poverty maps for some years now, as have some governments . What’s new is that the European Union, which redistributes resources from richer countries to poorer ones, is in the process of finalizing its programs for the next financing period, 2014 to 2020. These programs are aimed at reducing disparities in standards of living. Being poorer on average than the rest of Europe, countries in Central and Eastern Europe will receive significant resources for investments to raise their standard of living. 
Take the case of Slovenia (Map 1above). Under EU rules, the eastern half of the country is considered less developed and the western half more developed. The more developed a region the less money it receives so, based on this map, the eastern half of the country will have significantly greater access to resources than the west. Is this the best way of allocating resources? This map is not able to take account of intra-regional variations in standards of living. (My colleague, Katarina Mathernova, a former EC official herself, tells me of the very practical difficulties for both the European Commission and national governments in deciding on resource allocation in the absence of a finer grained understanding of where the greatest needs lie.)
To provide better information for decision making purposes, the World Bank developed a poverty mapping project for ten countries in Central and Eastern Europe. Ken Simler led this multi-country, multi-year exercise. Map 2 presents poverty at county level in Slovenia using information from the recent EU Survey of Income and Living Conditions for Slovenia combined with the Census. Municipalities with a higher fraction of the population in poverty are shown in darker shades of blue. While the map confirms higher poverty (and needs) the eastern half of the country, it also shows pockets of high poverty in the west. This map suggests a different way of allocating resources, with the darker blue municipalities throughout the country having greater claim.
Each of the maps tells its own story. Both Map 2 and Map 3 provide finer grained information on intra-country variation in poverty than was previously available and can potentially improve resource allocation. The maps also force more thinking on how best to allocate resources aimed at improving standards of living – whether to target poor areas or poor people. While the right combination of approaches will vary by country, the maps provide important information to help come to the best answer.